A comprehensive estate plan helps you get your financial house in order and provides a way to shield your California assets from seizure and federal and state estate taxes. An estate plan also allows you to appoint one or more trustworthy individuals to handle your affairs if you become incapacitated or die.
Naming beneficiaries for all of your financial and life insurance accounts is often the first step in estate planning and the easiest. Accounts with named beneficiaries do not go through probate, and heirs cannot raise legal objections. The institutions distribute the contents shortly after death.
In a will, you can bequeath individual items, pass the entire estate to the remaining spouse or anything in-between. You may also wish to give part of the estate’s assets to a charity. A will is a proper place to name guardians for underage children.
A will goes through probate, which can be expensive and time-consuming. You want to name a trusted executor in the will who will handle issues like challenges, locating missing heirs, settling debts and liquidating assets.
Trusts consist of two basic types: revocable and irrevocable. They both assign beneficiaries for all the assets in the account, so there is no probate. The trustee distributes the assets after your death, following your written directives.
You can be the trustee in a revocable trust and continually change beneficiaries and directives. Upon your death, it transitions to an irrevocable trust.
An irrevocable trust is managed by a trustee previously named by you. The trust owns the assets, you cannot change the beneficiaries, and the assets are not subject to seizure by your creditors. Likewise, since the estate no longer owns the assets, an irrevocable trust reduces the estate’s value for tax purposes so that more money flows to your beneficiaries.
Durable powers of attorney
A durable power of attorney allows you to appoint someone who can represent you in your personal and financial affairs, especially if you are physically or mentally incapacitated. That person has a fiduciary obligation to act in your best interests.
Advance health care directive
In this document, you can name someone you trust to make end-of-life decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself. Make your wishes known about what measures the medical staff can take to prolong your life.